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In Memoriam: Sriman Jagadananda Das Ji

(Jiva.org) – In Memoriam: Sriman Jagadananda Das Ji

Jagadananda Das, a.k.a. Jan K. Brzezinski (b. 1950), joined the Hare Krishna movement in Toronto, Canada, in 1970 and was initiated by Srila A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada in 1971 in Detroit. In ISKCON, he served in various capacities at ISKCON Press in Brooklyn and then at the Dallas Gurukula where he taught Sanskrit, in New Vrindavan where he headed the Varṇāśrama College experiment in 1974, and then as headmaster of the Mayapur Gurukula in India (1975–1979). In 1979, he took sannyāsa from Bhavananda Swami, taking the name Hiranyagarbha Swami.

In 1979, he joined the son and direct disciple of Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur, Lalita Prasad Thakur (1879–1980), from whom he took dīkṣā, siddha-praṇāli, and vairāgya (bābājī veṣa). He was given the name Jagadānanda Dās Bābājī. For the next five years, he lived in the old town of Navadvipa, West Bengal. He studied the literature of the sampradāya in its original languages and was given the title Bhakti-śāstrī by the Bhaktivinoda Goṣṭhī in 1982.

In 1985, he returned to Canada and took courses in comparative religious studies and the history of religions at McGill University, earning top honors. In 1988, he was awarded the Commonwealth Scholarship to study for his doctorate at the School of Oriental and African Studies (University of London), which had a special relationship with the Vrindavan Research Institute. In 1992, he was awarded a Ph.D. in Sanskrit Literature, the subject of his dissertation being the Gopāla-campū of Śrīla Jīva Gosvāmī.

After a post-doctoral fellowship at the University of Toronto and a one-year appointment at the University of Manitoba, he spent the next few years translating from Bengali and Sanskrit for Mandala Press in San Rafael, CA, focusing primarily on the works of Bhakti Ballabh Tirtha and Bhakti Pramode Puri Maharajas. Mandala Press published his translation of Rūpa Gosvāmī’s Haṁsadūta and Uddhava-sandeśa in 1999. Besides this, Jagadananda published numerous scholarly articles on various aspects of Vaiṣṇava history and bhakti-rasa.

In 2007, Jagadananda Das returned to India, where he taught Sanskrit and studied yoga meditation at Swami Rama Sadhaka Grama in Rishikesh. He also helped edit several works by Swami Veda Bharati. In 2010, while he was periodically teaching Sanskrit to yoga students in Rishikesh, he moved to Jiva Institute in Vrindavan, where he worked with Babaji Satyanarayana Dasa, editing the Ṣad Sandarbhas. At that time, he was also the editor of an online repository of Sanskrit texts called Gauḍīya Grantha Mandir (GGM), first started by Neal Delmonico (Nitai Das) about 25 years ago. Babaji has long recognized the value of the Grantha Mandir project and has given moral and material support for many years. Jagadananda continued working on the GGM when it was incorporated into Jiva Institute’s web domain in December 2018, where it continues to grow and develop.

Jagadananda’s great love for Vrindavan inspired him to create the online newspaper Vrindavan Today, which later also became a monthly print magazine. His wish was to raise the level of Vrindavan consciousness among the Braj lovers and to bring Vrindavan’s spiritual side to the notice of the wider public without sectarian and institutional boundaries. He also had his own blog, a treasure chest of various topics on Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava philosophy and history. He was very passionate about these platforms and would devote hours to writing articles. He also wrote Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura’s biography, which Jiva Institute plans to publish if the manuscripts can be accessed in order to preserve the precious research and hard work Jagadananda invested. He felt that he lived through his publications:

“My personal feeling and hope is that the value of my work will be judged and examined on its own merits, but we all know that this is not the way things work in the world. (Email to Malati Manjari in 2016)

In 2016–17, he started teaching Sanskrit grammar to the Jiva students and also taught about Jīva Gosvāmī’s magnum opus, Gopal Champu, on which he did his dissertation. In 2018, he wrote a play about Jīva Gosvāmī for the Jiva Sanskrit students to perform after the winter break, called Jīve Dayā Nāṭakam (Compassion to Jīva), which was performed on Jan. 9, 2019. There, he took the role of the author, the sūtra-dhāra.

Jagadananda Das developed his own methodology for teaching Sanskrit, by which he avoided teaching complex rules upfront and kept mainly to the singular tense. He minimized memorization generally learned in the beginning and emphasized grammatical nuances that would be encountered in the texts of the Vrindavan Gosvāmīs. For this, he created the Jiva Tirtha Sanskrit Manual, which he constantly improved. His great hope was that someone would complete this book and continue to teach the course after him. The textbook includes many verses from the Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava literature, especially from Bhāgavad Gītā and Bhāgavata Purāṇa. Through it, he wanted his students to get a taste for the Sanskrit language and its unique ways of expression. The chanting and memorization of iconic illustrative verses from the scriptures and the daily “calisthenics” of declension and conjugation recitation were an enjoyable experience for his students. Jagadananda was always eager to taste and share this rasa with his students; his enthusiasm and joy for teaching Sanskrit were contagious.

Jagadananda Das

Jagadananda Das

He dearly loved his Sanskrit students, always encouraging them in many ways and entertaining them with various stories and discourses that spontaneously crossed his mind. He was a treasure house of knowledge, specifically on Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava history, and could speak tirelessly for hours about his favorite subjects. He also had great respect and affection for Babaji and his projects, as he often expressed in his correspondence:

“I just feel that my life will not be worth anything until I have gone through Jīva Gosvāmī’s entire work from beginning to end at least once. And I am extremely grateful to Babaji for giving me this opportunity. It is really the grace of the sampradāya on me to get his association in this project.” (Email to Malati Manjari in 2014)

Jagadananda did not consider himself a big scholar but a life-long learner who was always open to new knowledge. Often in his letters, he expressed his appreciation for Babaji and Jiva Institute:

“I am here at Jiva only to learn the Prīti Sandarbha. But actually, I have gotten so much more in the time I have been here. Most of all, I am being taught humility in the face of Babaji’s superhuman thirst and capacity for knowledge. So now the time has come to complete the Sandarbha mission, and I am ready for it by Babaji’s grace … ready to do the best I can as quickly as possible and simply hope that I have enough intelligence to make a positive contribution to this noble cause. It is something like a final exam. For a very slow student.”(Email to Babaji and Malati M. in April 2021)

He expressed the same sentiments in October 2021 after leaving Jiva Institute:

“Babaji is very much in favor of supporting serious students and scholars, so anyone can apply to him at any level of development. Of course, the Jiva Institute also needs support. We could reduce the cost of the courses and extend greater facility if there were more contributors who recognized the extraordinary position of the Institute under Babaji’s leadership. His hope is very much to create a community of Vaiṣṇava scholars who are deeply conversant with the entire Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava canon for the benefit of the sampradāya and the world. People may think that Babaji is leading his own separate guru-cult in competition with this one or that one. This would be a huge mistake and a misunderstanding of the way that traditional Vaiṣṇava sampradāyas work. Babaji has also started and supports a Sanskrit school for non-English speaking devotees, both at the Institute and Radha Kunda. Most of the students are Bengali, but we have disciples from both Nitai Gaur Radhe Shyam and the Gauḍīya Math, what to speak of other traditional paramparās. Babaji looks beyond any sectarian conflicts based on the narcissism of small differences. He is entirely focused on understanding, relishing, and sharing the teachings of the Gosvāmīs and the wider Sanskrit knowledge universe. He himself is an unparalleled scholar, the disciple of Shri Haridas Shastri Navatirtha. I would boldly say that I have never seen a disciple as anugata to his guru as Babaji is to Shri Haridas Shastri, from whom he studied the Sandarbhas continuously for twelve years. The last words he said to me as I was leaving—having assured him that wherever the winds of Radharani’s mercy tossed me, I would give priority to the Prīti Sandarbha work—were, ‘This Sandarbha translation project is an immense service to the sampradāya.’ That is his spirit. I personally bow down to his spirit of service and thank him for giving me this prasāda-leśa of service.

“And indeed, I am becoming more and more aware of how this collaborative effort, in which I have played a small part ever since the Bhagavat Sandarbha, is producing the first truly scholarly translation in English of the sixth Gosvāmī’s theological magnum opus. I assure you that this work is being conducted at the highest level of competence, both academic and devotional.

“Good, serious students will always be given facility at the Jiva Institute. But a good, serious student is also a servant and brings wood for the sacrificial fire and gives mādhukarī to the guru first so that he can take and properly digest his remnants. Service is the fire of digestion for spiritual knowledge.”

Jagat and Babaji

In January 2022, Jagadananda composed a letter for Babaji in Sanskrit regarding his work on Prīti Sandarbha, where he again expresses his appreciation:

राधे राधे ! बाबाजीमहाराजश्रीचरणकमलेषु कोटिकोटिप्रणतिपूर्वकं निवेदनमिदं–भवतां चरणेषु मम स्वीक्रियन्तां । अहं भवतां चिन्तनं प्रतिदिनं करोमि । क्वचित् कदाचिदपि भवतां दर्शनं स्वप्नयोगे प्राप्नोमि च । अहं अत्र नित्यंध्यानपूर्वकं प्रीतिसन्दर्भस्य संशोधनकार्येऽपि निरतोऽस्मि । इदानीं नववर्षस्य अवसरे अधिकसमयं प्राप्य अधिकं कार्यं कर्तुं शक्नोमि । एतत्पूर्वेबहुसमयः संस्कृतशिक्षापद्धतेः तथा गीतापाठस्य सज्जीकरणे गमितः अभूत् ।

तथापि भवतां कृपासंबलं प्राप्य वर्तमाने प्रीतिसन्दर्भकार्ये धारावाहिकतया अग्रेसरन्नस्मि । तत्र अयं विशेषः–बहवः श्लोकाः भागवतात् उद्धृताःसन्ति । प्रायशः तेषां प्रासङ्गिकतां अवगन्तुं मया मूलटीकाः पठितव्याः सन्ति । तत्र खलु ग्रन्थमन्दिरस्य संशोधनमपि कर्तुं बाधितोऽस्मि ।तस्मात् वैलम्ब्यं किञ्चिद् अधिकतरं भवति । तथापि ततो यद् यद् अनुभवाः मया लभ्यन्ते, ते मम कार्यस्य गुणवत्तां वर्धयेरन् यथा भवतां सन्तोषःस्यात् इति आशासे ।

इदानीं १६०-परिच्छेद-पर्यन्तं कार्यं समाप्तप्रायमेव । कतिचिद् दिनानि अपेक्ष्य भवन्तः तत्सञ्चिकां प्राप्स्यन्ते । संप्रति श्रीजीवगोस्वामिप्रभुपादानां तिथिः आगतप्रायः । जूम-योगे भवतां उज्ज्वलस्वरूपं द्रष्टुं तथा अमृतमधुरसंभाषणमपि श्रोतुं अवसरंउत्कण्ठाभरेण प्रतीक्षमाणोऽस्मि ।कति दिनानि कानाडायां वर्तितव्यं तद् इदानीं न वक्तुं  शक्नोमि । तथापि मम हृदयं सर्वदा भवतां सकाशे तथा जीवसंस्थायां वर्तते वर्तिष्यते च । सेवाभावेन भावितो भवतां अयं दासः नमस्करोतीति अलम् । राधे राधे !!

Here is a rough translation:

“Radhe Radhe! At the lotus feet of Babaji Maharaj, I offer my hundreds of thousands of obeisances.

“Please accept me at your feet. I think of you every day. Sometimes, I get to see you in my dreams. I am also engaged here in the work of researching the context of love with constant meditation. Now, on New Year’s Eve, I have more time to get more done. Before this, much time had been spent preparing the Sanskrit teaching method and the recitation of the Gītā.

“Nevertheless, with the strength of your grace, I am continuing my present work of love reference. There is this special feature: Many verses are quoted from the Bhāgavad Gītā. I usually have to read the original commentaries to understand their relevance. This, indeed, makes me work on GGM and make corrections. Therefore, the delay has slightly increased. However, I hope that the experiences I gain from that will improve the quality of my work to your satisfaction. Now, the 160-page anuccheda is almost finished. After waiting a few days that [sic] you will receive the file.

“The appearance day of Śrī Jīva Gosvāmi Prabhupada has almost arrived. I look forward to the opportunity to see your bright appearance in Zoom and to hear your sweet talk. I can’t say how many days I’ll be in Canada right now. However, my heart is always with you and will always be with Jiva Institute. It is enough that this servant of yours, who is moved by the spirit of service, bows down to you. Radhe Radhe!!”

In one of his last letters, he wrote:

“At this point I have rather gotten back into the same rhythm of life I was in 15 years ago, for better or worse. I am not quite sure what to make of it, but for the time being, at least, I am accepting the situation with as much detachment as I can muster. I suppose that I am a vāntāśī, but my life has already been a zig-zag affair—one step forward, one step back. At my age, I can feel my strength waning, but I am still hopeful that I will fulfill the purposes that Guru and Gauranga have for me before I die. I do aspire for your mercy and blessings; they are my jīvātu.”
(Email to Babaji on May 20, 2022)

Babaji liked Jagadananda very much and fondly used to address him as “Jagadguru” or “Ācārya Jagat.” This is what he said about him:

“Ācārya Jagadananda was a great scholar and devotee. He was fully absorbed in his sādhana, study and śāstra. He was very renounced.  He never spoke about his family life to me. Only after his son died, I came to know that he had a son. I knew nothing about his wife, what to speak of his sister. He did not care about his looks and possessions. It was a pleasure to talk to him—which means he spoke and I listened.

He could speak for hours. His knowledge of Gauḍīya history was astounding. He had a special love for Vraja. Therefore, when I invited him to move from Rishikesh to Vrindavan, he was in bliss. He spent hours working on Vrindavan Today e-newspaper. Although learned and senior to me, he had the childlike innocence. His laughter was contagious. His departure is a great loss for me. Where can I find a scholar like him?”

On May 28, 2024, Jagadananda Das left this world after a severe illness. Even in his last moments, he maintained his childlike joy, always ready to receive Grace. His Sanskrit students at Jiva and the devotees who lived with him for several years at Jiva Institute dearly miss his unique presence.

“Jan’s search for meaning led him to a spiritual life. His quest for knowledge to satisfy his relevance ultimately led to a state of humility and unconditional love for himself, his family, friends, and humanity. He is indebted to Satyanarayana Dasa for the opportunity to follow his pursuit of serving Vedic life. I have always been so proud of him.” (Elizabeth Kolansky, Jagadananda|s sister)

List of Publications:

“The authenticity of the Caitanya-caritāmṛta-mahākāvya,” Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, London, 53(3), 1990.

 “Goloka Vṛndāvaṇa: A Translation of Jīva Gosvāmī’s Gopāla-campū (Chapter One),” JVS Vol. 1, No. 1 (Fall 1992).

“Prabodhānanda Sarasvatī: from Benares to Braj,” Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, London, 55(1), 1992.

“Prabodhānanda, Hita Harivaṁśa, and the Rādhā-rasa-sudhā-nidhi,” School of Oriental and African Studies, 55(3), London, 1992.

Mañjarī-Svarūpa-Nirūpaṇam (A Translation),” JVS Vol. 1, No. 3 (Spring 1993).

 “Women Saints in Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavism,” JVS Vol. 3, No. 4 (Fall 1995).

 “Verse and Prose Poetry in the Gopāla-campū,” JVS Vol. 4, No. 4 (Fall 1996).

 “The Paramparā Institution in Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavism,” JVS Vol. 5, No. 1 (Winter 1996-97).

 “Does Kṛṣṇa Marry the Gopīs in the End? The Svakīyā-vāda of Jīva Gosvāmin,” JVS Vol. 5, No. 4 (Fall 1997).

 “Prabodhānanda, Hit Harivaṁśa, and the Rādhā-rasa-sudhā-nidhi,” JVS Vol. 7, No. 1 (Fall 1998).

Mystic Poetry: Rupa Gosvamin’s Uddhava-sandesa and Hamsaduta, Mandala Press, 1999.

 “Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa’s First Meeting as Found in Jīva Gosvāmin’s Gopāla-campū,” JVS Vol. 8, No. 2 (Spring 2000).

 “Śrī Caitanya’s Śikṣāṣṭakam,” JVS Vol. 12, No. 1 (Fall 2003).

 “Jīva Gosvāmī: Biography and Bibliography,” JVS Vol. 15, No. 2 (Spring 2007).

 “Pratāparudradeva and Krishna Chaitanya,” JVS Vol. 17, No. 1 (Fall 2008).

“The Five Essential Verses of the Gīta-govinda,” JVS Vol. 22, No. 1 (Fall 2013).

 “Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura and Bipin Bihari Goswami,” JVS Vol. 23, No. 1 (Fall 2014).

Yoga-Tarangini (A Rare Commentary on Gorakṣa-śataka),” Motitlal BANARSIDASS. 2015.

 “Globalized Braj Dham: Pilgrimage and Residence,” JVS Vol. 27, No. 1 (Fall 2018).

“Rūpa Gosvāmī’s Dūta-kāvyas: Classical and Modern Sensibilities” JVS Vol. 30, No. 1 (Fall 2021).

 “For Whom the Milkmaids Toll: The Evolution of Krishna’s Dāna-līlā” JVS Vol. 31, No. 1 (Fall 2022).

Uddhava-Sandeśa & Haṁsadūta, New edition self-published (2024) and available on Amazon.

We invite devotees to share their memories of appreciation of Jagadananda Das Ji in the comment section!

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